Ultimately, “In the Heights,” for all its wholesome escapism, also reveals the limits of Hollywood’s idea of representation.
This display of community, however, seems to take the place of more practical forms of political organizing or awareness. “Maybe this neighborhood is changing forever, Maybe this is our last night together,” Usnavi sings, “Y’all could cry with your head in the sand, I’m a fly this flag that I got in my hand.” While the assertion of pride in a marginalized identity is political by nature, relying solely on identity politics as a vehicle for political expression can shift necessary attention away from social class. In a film as likely to attain stratospheric success as “In The Heights,” the artistic choice to conflate identity with protest feels like a massive opportunity lost.
The purported solution to the problems faced by the film’s central characters is the unlikely prospect of winning the state lottery. While the lottery sets off the film’s most impressive musical segment, the hip-hop flavored “96,000,” it provides Usnavi, who inherits the ticket from the suddenly passed-on Abuela Claudia, with cash to hold onto his bodega and stay in the Heights, start a family with Vanessa and pay legal expenses to help Sonny get permanent resident status.
An earlier version of this op-ed wrongly described the background of the character of Nina. Her character is Puerto Rican.